In 1952, I was living in Hollywood with my sister Corky. Once a week we’d go to Miceli’s Restaurant for pizza, located in the heart of Hollywood, near Hollywood and Vine. Pizza was new and exciting then and we found that Miceli’s pizza was the best anywhere. When our dad came to visit one day from Freeport, Illinois we took him to Miceli’s for a pizza, which he had never had. After the dinner, we asked him what he thought about it. His reply: “well, it’s interesting and okay but it’s just a fad and it will pass by soon.” Instead of a passing fad, there are so many pizza restaurants now, it’s not really possible to write much of an article about them. But I’ll try.
Pizza in California was a new entry into the food scene. Italian immigrants brought it to the east coast in the late 1800s, but it didn’t immigrate to California until around 1940. Soldiers returning from World War II were familiar with pizza and were some of the first aficionados. But once it got here, it proliferated quickly.
While we associate pizza with Italy, stuff like pizza has been around for thousands of years. But the basic pizza, dough fired in a wood oven with tomato sauce, cheese and basil (the colors of the Italian flag), dates from the 1800s in Naples. Today there are lots of innovations and toppings and in Italy, some strict rules, such as what kind of tomatoes can be used for the sauce, and I guess there are a variety of preferences. For me, the important considerations are:
1. The thickness of the crust: I like it thin.
2. The texture of the crust: I don’t like it too crisp. Traditionally pizza from Naples is soft and pliable while pizza in Rome is thin and crisp.
3. The acidity of the tomato sauce: I like some bite to it.
4. The texture of the cheese: I like it sort of gooey with strings as you eat it.
5. I like some fresh garlic flavor, and a sprinkle of hot pepper is nice.
6. Yes, a wood-fired oven is preferred but that is not the most important factor for me.
7. I prefer it really hot, right out of the oven. By the time I get a delivery, a little something has gone out of the flavor and texture.
So, with a product so infused into society, and with so many variations and personal preferences, how do you write anything new about it? All I can do is tell you what I’ve found.
First the bad news: When I called my favorite pizza vendor this week for a delivery, I discovered it has gone out of business. The Ritrovo in Pacific Palisades had a real Italian oven and made two varieties of pizza, one with thin crust and one with a thicker crust. I will miss it.
The best crust I’ve found in Santa Monica is at Milo & Olive. I love their mushroom pizza, but I had a couple of problems there. First of all, it is way too loud for me. Secondly, they have one pizza with mushrooms, and another one with sausage. I asked if I could have one with both mushrooms and sausage and the waiter said “No.” Then the manager came over to reinforce the “NO,” so now I just eat the mushroom pizza during quiet times. I also think that the pizza at Pizzana in Brentwood on San Vicente Blvd. is really good and innovative. It’s not covered with cheese, and the cheese is a lighter texture, but they have a good thin crust and an excellent selection of toppings.
If you are willing to drive into Hollywood, which I rarely am, there are some really good pizza restaurants. The best one I know is L’Antica. This is a beautiful indoor-outdoor restaurant, which is not trendy and thus not overly busy and noisy. The good feature about it is that the pizza is just like you get in Naples Italy. Their sister restaurant is in Italy and the people there are real Italian. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Most of the other pizza places I’ve tried are OK, but not exceptional. The one that I found below par is the 800 degrees on Wilshire. If you want to see a list of what can go wrong with pizza, just look at their reviews on Yelp.
Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire, Santa Monica.
11712 San Vicente, Brentwood
120 Wilshire Santa Monica
L’Antica, 1534 N. Mccadden PL., LA 90028
1646 N Las Palmas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone: (323) 466-3438
(Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon. Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally. Please send your comments to: email@example.com)